(02/09/2005)
By Dianne Weaver

The "Mezz Mess" keeps on coming, along with efforts to reform the state's ethics commission.

Former House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta could escape prosecution in Hampshire County because of a dispute over a plea deal reached last year in Kanawha County.

Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Charnock says that the plea agreement Mezzatesta reached last year gives him immunity from any charges in Hampshire County.

Former Kanawha County Prosecutor Mike Clifford says that Charnock has misinterpreted the plea and that the agreement applied only to crimes committed in Kanawha County.

Mezzatesta pleaded no contest in Kanawha County Magistrate Court in to fabricating fake letters and destroying legislative computer records, while embroiled in an ethics investigation. He was sentenced to 90 days probation and fined $500 dollars.

The former chairman of the legislature's education committee allegedly gave false information in an affidavit which he gave to the state Ethics Commission.

The Ethics Commission's investigation said he didn't do anything wrong. They also supported his claim it was not illegal for him to double-dip with taxpayer money.

The current reform of the Ethics Commission is based upon Mezzatesta double-dipping and his alleged unethical acts.

While the newest Ethics Bill has several key points that appears to improve the agencies responsibility, legislators inserted a caveat which would have fined any person or group $5000 if they made their complaint public.

The activist group "West Virginia Wants To Know" says the gag order was inserted because they helped blow the whistle on Mezzatesta, including issues about the operation of the Ethics Commission.

Wanda Carney, of WVWTK, said if individuals associated with the independent media and internet publishing had not blown the whistle on Mezzatesta, it is highly unlikely anything would have happened with his case.

Mezzatestsa has also used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain Hampshire County Board of Education inquiries to discover who said what about him.


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